Launching The Transformation Institute!

Hi friends,

I’m beginning the “soft launch” of something that has grown out of my work in Japan over the last several years.  The Transformation Institute:  Community, Business and Personal Transformation is coming to life at web address Robert Theobald and I used for our work from the mid-nineties until his death just before the beginning of the new century.  Seems very fitting and appropriate.

Frankly, I don’t know exactly what the Transformation Institute is.  I just know it wants to be born.  Several questions contribute to its formation:

  • We will encounter more and more collapse of existing systems in the coming years.  How use collapse (disaster/emergency/revolt) as a springboard to transform our communities and our lives into ones which are healthy, resilient and thriving?  A friend in Japan made a critical observation last April, speaking of the triple disasters in Japan.  She said “we caused this.”  Three simple words.  They make us face the fact that while a natural disaster occurred, it was precipitated by an array of human choices.  Many of our choices will lead to more collapses.  Will we try to reconstruct the old normal, or can we learn how to use the energy of collapse to transform to a new more desirable state?
  • While there are differences in our community, business and personal lives, transformation of the three is interwoven.  How will we reconceptualize and recreate the relationship between these three aspects of our lives? One of my biggest lessons in Japan has been seeing what it looks like when business is still a part of community rather than apart from community.  I’m not trying to glamorize business in Japan or say there are not issues and problems, but what’s been striking to me are the ways in which community and social needs trump financial profit.  CSR isn’t enough, it feels kind of like an “oh, and, by the way, I wonder if there is something good we ought to be doing.”  What would it be like for community, business and personal to conceive of themselves as integral parts of a greater, related whole?
  • There is a great, latent potential for great cooperation and greater learning linking the whole of the Pacific Rim.  We are an ecology together.  How might the diverse insights, questions, knowledge and experience of countries, cultures and peoples on the Pacific Rim be invited into a deeper co-creative relationship?  How do we honor the particular problems and potential present in each context and learn together a we work to create a future that works for all?
  • Finally, the emergence of a new Tohoku Region in Japan will be a teacher to all of us.  How do we learn with and from the people of Japan as this beautiful Tohoku region comes back to life? What can those of us elsewhere around the rim contribute as people in Tohoku learn how to work together to create the communities, businesses and lives they want?  I remember the feeling in early April when I was co-hosting a group of 40 or so business leaders in Japan.  We began with grief, sadness and confusion that turned into excitement within three hours.  The shift was remarkable.  When I sensed into the shift these words came back to me:  we’ve been released from a future we did not want!  How can Japan lead the way in transformation?

It’s an exciting time.  Much is possible.  I invite you to help me think about how the new Transformation Institute might contribute to the possibilities which surround us!



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Ordinary People

Pausing as I write the phrase, ordinary people….

What’s really true is that I am just blown away.  I’ve spent the last three days meeting people who are doing the work needed to stabilize and then re-create the Tohoku region of Japan that was ravaged by the triple disasters of March 11, 2011.

There are special names for these folks in Japan.  Some are called “U Turn:”  people raised in Tohoku who had moved away and have now returned.  Some are called “I Turn:” people who never had a connection with the region, but who have moved their lives to Tohoku.  Some are called volunteers:  people who have spent days, weeks and months living in the various volunteer centers doing whatever is needed.  And, of course, others are the people who have lived in Tohoku all their lives.  They arec sometimes are called victims or sufferers, but those terms turn them into applicants.  They are just people rebuilding their lives and their communities.

A year ago Suji Suzuki had no idea he would be living in Sendai.  He was happy in Tokyo, finding ways to use Appreciate Inquiry to change health systems in Spokane.  He did an I Turn and has now set up the Sanaburi Foundation to act as an intermediary foundation to create a bridge between people with resources outside Tohoku and those who need support within (see  He came to the region back in April and just showed up for what needs to be done.  Gradually, as he worked alongside many other volunteers, he began to see this need for an intermediary function and he had some previous background doing foundation work so he stepped forward.  Each day he continues to find his way.  Brokering new partnerships and forming new relationships with others who are working to create a new Tohoku.

Watanabe-san worked for a firm in Tokyo that made log homes.  He did a U Turn to Tohoku after the disasters hit.  Now he is the volunteer coordinator for Minami-Sanriku-cho area where 7 communities with 2500 people were completely destroyed (see  He was born in Sendai and thinks that he will be in the region for a long time.  There was nothing in particular in his background which prepared him for the work he is doing now.  He just showed up and started to offer his talents. stepping forward to do what he could for people who needed his help.

I don’t have a picture of Chiba-san.  I was too blown away by his story to take one.  An older man with white hair.  So humble.  So unassuming.  He was born in the small village of Oosawa where all 188 homes were washed out to see.  He spent most of his life away, as a ship’s engineer and returned for retirement three years ago.  He’s been the servant leader of one temporary housing site where he’s managed to gather many member of the village together.  They’re organizing themselves to do all sorts of things because they already had relationship.  Although he waved his hands to reflect any praise, I have no doubt that most of what’s happened in the new Oosawa would have happened without him.

Or then there is Kawasaki-san from Shikoku. He showed up in Kesennuma in May to help.  He thinks he will be there for a long time, helping businesses and communities rebuild. In Rikuzentakada, I met with two met who had been friends for 35 years.  One is a former local politician and the other is the President of a large Driving School.  They are among the people who lived through the days of the disaster and who are now working together to build a new community which combines the strengths of traditional culture with new technologies.  (see

These and others I met are just a few of the ordinary heroes who are stepping forward because the times call them.  They each have a large portion of common sense, a lot of humility, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done and the courage to step into the unknown time and time again.

I feel honored to have met them and will look for ways to support their work.

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Resilient Japan

Hello friends,

Right now my work has taken me to Japan — in a big way.  We’ve launched a new website: as host for this work and the commentary I am writing from there.  I will be bringing some of this over into Resilient Communities, because it is the same work.  But right now most of my writing is on this small new website.  Please come see what’s happening beneath the visible surface in Japan.

I’m working closely with Art of Hosting – Japan and KDI’s Future Centers — both described in earlier blogs from my work in Japan last year.

Blessings,  Bob

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One week in Japan

Mt. Fuji revealed itself today, for the first time since I’ve been in Kiyosato, a small town in the mountains a couple of hours south and west of Tokyo.  This silent sentinel is always on the rim, hosting Japan.  Often hidden by many layers of clouds, it is always there.  Sometimes just a glimmer… I […]

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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan


In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the […]

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Quaking in Japan

My heart reaches out to Japan wondering what I can do to help.  How do I witness this disaster from a distance in a way that helps to restore community and build more resilience? Stay connected.  Stay connected.  Stay connected.  Those are the words that dance across my heartmind.  So I tweet and retweet.  I […]

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The Art of a True Move


I first met Arawana Hayashi in the summer of 2004 at the Shambhala Authentic Leadership Institute (now ALIA —  It was my first time participating in the Institute.  That year we’d organized an Intergenerational Dialogue on Leadership which was the ancestor for the dialogue held earlier this year in Tokyo.  I was looking forward […]

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Being Present in Roppongi


So last week we invited 60 or so people to do something unusual in Roppongi.  A few blocks away from the Japanese Parliament and on the second floor of the Japan Foundation headquarters, we had businessmen and school teachers, consultants and nonprofit organization leaders, college students and retired government workers lying on the floor with […]

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Women’s Leadership


Perhaps it is ironic, but women’s leadership has never been a topic that has captivated my attention. Since I was little, I have heard my mom’s stories about not being allowed to wear anything besides dresses for most occasions, about growing up at a time when there were no sports for women, about fighting for […]

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